Members of the GMVS community are mourning the sudden and unexpected passing of Eric Keck in early July. Eric was a graduate of the Class of 1986 who went on to pursue his dream of racing at the highest levels, eventually landing a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, where he became an iconic member of the American Downhillers.
Eric has been described as “an awesome human”, “as kind and as friendly as they get”, and someone who could “brighten up the room just walking into it.” Since his passing, the memories have been pouring in. Here, we share with you a couple that exhibit the life and spirit of Eric as a member of the GMVS community:
In the words of Steve Utter, GMVS Alpine Program Director:
Eric was full of life — and bigger than life. He found joy, passion, and humor in everything he did. He spent his adult life serving others. He was a great husband, father and grandfather.
In the Words of a Classmate:
I haven’t seen Keck in prob over 20 years, but saw him on social media a ton and loved seeing his enthusiasm for his son’s football prowess—and also loved that he named his son “Thunder.” Just sums up Keck’s unabashed, show-the-world-that-you’re-here approach to life.
Keck was two years ahead of me at GMVS, a senior when I started as a sophomore in the fall of the ’85-86 year. Before I’d even met him, I saw this huge Hulk of a man strolling across campus and remember asking, “Is that one of our coaches?” No, that’s a student. His name’s Keck, someone said. I asked for his first name, but they said, “Don’t bother. Just call him Keck.” He truly towered above me, and I feared he’d be another cruel senior who liked beating up on underclassmen, but the first thing he said to me was, “Hey dude, nice Cinelli cap!” Holy ****. A senior complimented my cycling hat. He was as kind and friendly as they get, and I felt like maybe this school’s gonna work out just fine.
Once I ran into Keck in the gym, and as I was wrapping up a set of squats, Keck walks and said, “You all done with that?” I nodded yes, as Keck walked up to the rack. I was quite pleased with myself that the strong-as-an-ox Eric Keck would be squatting the same weight I was, even if just a warm-up set. But nope: he yanked it off the rack and started benching with it instead. Did maybe 25 in a row—with the same weight I’d barely been able to squat 12 reps with.
The next memory was in the winter. It was just another average day of slalom training, and I was maybe third or fourth down a freshly set course on Inverness. But as I got halfway through the course, there were already ruts, and at least half of the gates were broken. Not just knocked down, but plastic Breakaway gates snapped in half. It was like a team of Samurai swordsmen jumped out of the trees and completely decimated it. I asked my coaches at the bottom, “What the hell happened?” and they all said just one word in unison: “Keck.”
Sometime later that winter a tradition started at school: we had “Reuben Tuesdays.” The school chef would whip up a ton of incredibly tasty Reubens for our feasting after a tough morning of training, and we’d all compete to see how many we could eat. I could manage about 5 or 6, but Keck set the school record of I think 16. It must have been eight pounds of food. All wolfed down in a quick “feeding” before afternoon classes started. I often wonder what would happen if Keck had dared to take on a Hot Dog Eating World Championship run.
And finally, my last memory was when I was a fresh recruit on the cycling team, and Keck was one of the ringers who would later go on to help GMVS secure the New England Prep School Championship. I was pretty light in 10th grade, so I could out-climb Keck pretty easily, but God help me if he was anywhere near me when we got to a sprint finish. I was comfortably ahead of him in a training ride, but as we sprinted for the line, somehow he roared past me, sounding like an 18-wheeler that sucked me up into its wind vortex, and I remember seeing something I’d never seen before: his entire bike frame was flexing side to side with each downstroke of the pedals. He had so much horsepower, the frame looked like it was about to snap. I didn’t even know that could happen to steel. But sure enough, even though he dusted me, he tossed out a “Good sprint, kid” to me as we both spun down cooling our legs.
He was never the type to rub his success in your face. He needed you to feel good about the outcome, too; makes sense to me he became a teacher. And a father. And a policeman. And a minister. There was no glory in it if others couldn’t share in the fun, too.
Miss ya, Keck. Look after us up there.
In the Words of a Teammate:
The stories are many… I met Eric when I was 12. I had just moved from New Jersey to come race in Vermont. We were at a slalom at Cochran’s I believe. Flat, slow slalom. I came down, did decent for a Jersey boy. Then I keep watching up the hill at the other racers. This one kid comes down and completely and utterly destroys the course. A BAMBOO course. He was shinning bamboo gates at 12 years old! Bamboo was flying everywhere. Gatekeepers scrambling to fix all the splintered wood. It was chaos. I was completely speechless. No idea what that kid was. I turned to look at whoever was next to me, and it was obvious I was in awe of this creature. The person looked at me and laughed at my horror. Eric became one of my best friends soon thereafter.
Why I Love Eric: When we were on the U.S. Team, I took a massive crash at a downhill in Fernie, BC. I was knocked out cold. Woke up wrapped up in the fencing. There was the stretcher, coaches, patrol, etc. It’s amazing that I remember everything about that day now, but then, I couldn’t even remember what country we were in. Eric was right there next to me as they were strapping me in to take me to the hospital in the ambulance. “Hey Todd, you good?” “I think so,” “I responded: “You sure?” He asked. I kind of gave him a glazed look. He asked “What’s your wife’s name?” I couldn’t remember. “What are your kids names?” Still no memory of my kids. Eric looked at the paramedics and said: “You fellas better get him to the hospital quick.” The doors to the ambulance shut and the ride to the hospital was a haze. But I do remember the paramedics asking me about my wife and kids of whom I couldn’t remember. For those that know me, you see why that’s less a “how touching Eric really cared about me story” and was really a “Kecker is an insanely funny guy” story. For those that don’t know me: I was about 21 years old, no wife, no kids, not even a dog. But how I tried for hours to remember my non-existent family unit.
He was always trying to get you to do something with him, more than often against your better judgement, but it always wound up being a good time. The first to cheer you on when you kicked ass and also the first to laugh with you to try and lift you up when you were down. The best cheerleader. Eric is my eternal brother, he is always with me. And when I need a laugh he makes me laugh. I have Eric to thank for many great times.
In the Words of a Coach:
I was Eric’s coach at GMVS and the year prior to his making the U.S. Ski Team. We were more than a coach and athlete, I always thought of Eric as my little brother — although it’s difficult to ever use the term “little” regarding Kecker.
When Eric came to GMVS from BMA we had probably our most talented group of male athletes during my time coaching men. Eric consistently became a key part of great teams. That may be what was attractive for him about football. The following years at GMVS we had a great culture and teams, we had a really strong cycling team despite our late starts for training every spring, our group the year following graduation was incredibly tight, and during Eric’s time with the U.S. downhill team the same dynamic emerged. Eric was committed to becoming the best he could be and combined this competitiveness with the understanding of the strength in a team. This wasn’t only an ideal but a core part of his being.
Randy Graves was a key part of our team as a coach at GMVS. Under Randy we were always doing ski test tracks working on finding out which skis were fastest and on improving gliding — and we had incredible gliders!
- We had a junior championship race at Mt. Snow where Randy and Scott Wood (our other coach) had a speed track timer set on a flat section so we knew how fast our skis and athletes were. Immediately after that section there was another portion out of sight of other coaches where our athletes would stand up to deliberately check their speed. I remember in the training just prior to the race other programs were excited about their results only to be very disappointed when the race actually occurred.
There were a number of notable races at Sugarloaf:
- One where Eric was two plus seconds out coming into the headwall prior to the bottom section and won the race.
- Another which was brutally cold and Eric did well afterward stating he had gone skin to win, meaning he raced only in his suit as that was thought to be faster by hundredths.
We had an autonomous post-graduate program after the guys Eric’s age graduated from GMVS. This wasn’t a situation which was elite level funding or one coach with an athlete. We had eight athletes and one coach. But, most importantly, we had an incredible group.
- The U.S. Ski Team was then about the largest size ever and none of our group had been named.
- At one point I asked the guys why they had such worn and ragged downhill suits. One of them replied — “Boog, we aren’t going to pay for our next suits”, as good a reply as I’ve ever heard.
- We skied a lot; Switzerland for a month in September then Colorado, Oregon, and Alberta for training and races from late October up to the day before Christmas return.
- During our training in Switzerland there was one day with many courses crammed together. An Italian coach had the great idea to set across our course. I started pulling out his gates and he came down confrontationally. Immediately Eric and AJ Kitt skied down, stood on the other side of me with arms crossed and asked if there was a problem; the coach immediately skied away without protest.
- There was no luxury involved. Our lodging for two weeks at Mt Bachelor in early December was in a two bedroom condo in SunRiver which with additional guests probably numbered up to twelve people. Randy and some of the GMVS athletes joined us. A good number of us slept on the floor.
- We had what was then an innovative timing system with watches for each athlete and timing impulse sensors. I was later told (much later) that while staying in SunRiver, Oregon the guys would take turns driving the rental car within the confines of the condo development on a set track to see who could get the fastest time. There were many such stories I’ve learned of after the fact, from this time and group. These were the type of limits this group pushed as they were 100% committed to making the most of that year and didn’t get involved in anything at odds with that intent.
- This group trained hard. Those who made the ski team became among the very fittest on the national team. I remember Daron Rahlves arrived at GMVS in the fall for his first year and trained with us prior to our departure for Switzerland. He threw up from trying to keep up with the group doing sprints but gained perspective on how hard he would need to work.
- At the end of that year four of eight had qualified to the US Ski Team.
While at GMVS we formed a cycling team to compete in the New England Prep School race series. Eric then probably was under 185 lbs and a very strong cyclist. Again, this was another example of Eric being part of a great team. Despite our late start in the spring due to ski racing we won the New England Championships our first year and would likely have repeated the second if not for a number of our team crashing. I remember the fun of the long training rides more than the races. We had long rides up to 100 miles where much of the riding was spent joking and talking. There were intensive training sessions but the fun of the training and team spirit is what is memorable. What is noteworthy is how the cycling fit within the larger scope of activity. We typically had morning runs five days a week which during that era were highly intensive and competitive. The guys on the team consistently did all the strength conditioning in addition to their cycling.
Our second year, the senior class of which Eric was a member, was going on a spring trip to the west. The senior class members of the bike team wanted to compete in the champs which meant missing that trip. So following championships we organized a trip where we cycled from Waitsfield to Camden, Maine. Two of the team’s families had thirty foot sailboats which we took for our own spring trip. Starting off only three of us on the two boats had ever sailed and we had major wind for most of the trip. Eric and the others really enjoyed the relatively hard core sailing which included some epic days. This is one example of how he always loved to try new activities and shared experiences. Following the sailing we cycled back to Waitsfield.
Another memory is from our wedding thirty-one years ago. We had it on the soccer field at GMVS in two large tents. Part of the way through the reception we had a pretty intense wind and rainstorm. Immediately a number of the guys set about strengthening the supporting lines and I remember Eric being the one swinging the sledgehammer to drive the iron pins deeper — obviously with a huge grin on his face.
I have had the wonderful opportunity to coach many outstanding athletes, I am as proud of Eric as any athlete I’ve ever coached because of how he went about pursuing his absolute best AND was a key team member in helping his peers develop and achieve. Additionally, he moved on from his all encompassing commitment to his sports to do for others and be a great husband and father. Following graduation from Columbia he worked in inner city schools teaching students with behavioral issues. As I’ve constantly thought of Eric recently the memories are so strong — and always — there is his huge smile and eyes full of life.